ACU (Australian Catholic University)

ACU Alum

Issue 1, Spring 2011

Man on a mission

Peter Maher CEO of St Vincent de Paul Queensland, Peter Maher.

It's the grassroots organisation that changes lives every day. Caitlin Ganter spoke to the CEO of St Vincent de Paul in Queensland about giving disadvantaged Australians a hand up.

To say that Peter Maher gives freely of his time would be an understatement.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of St Vincent de Paul Queensland and self-described 'big picture person' said he had always wanted to be in a position where his actions and decisions would have an impact.

"When I was young my father would say if you want to change something, put yourself in a position to be able to change it," Peter said. "I like making things happen, and right now I can try to influence government policy to help the community. If I have a concern, I can talk to the Premier or to the Prime Minister."

Starting out stocking shelves at Woolworths, the 2011 Order of Australia recipient is now responsible for the overall management of Vinnies in Queensland.

"Organisations like St Vincent's are essential because it comes back to the fundamental issues of assisting people in need, and we assist anyone in need regardless of race, creed or religion," Peter said.

"We don't just give a hand out, we give a hand up. It's important to remember that we’'e not about giving people money, we want to identify what caused their situation and try to change it in the long term."

Peter graduated from one of Australian Catholic University's (ACU) predecessor colleges, Signadou Teachers College in Canberra in 1974, and later returned to complete both a bachelor's degree and Master of Education.

He said it was the volunteers at Vinnies, and the people they helped that were the driving force of his motivation.

"When I first started at St Vincent's, I went to a centre distributing Christmas goods, where I met a woman and her 16-year-old daughter giving out hampers," Peter said.

"She told me that 10 years ago her marriage had broken down, and she had four young children to care for, and her entire life packed into two suitcases.

"Vinnies had been able to help her then, and made sure her children had Christmas presents, so now she comes back every single year as a volunteer to give something back."

Peter said there was no such thing as an average day at Vinnies.

"I like to meet with staff and volunteers at our different facilities - which range from retail outlets, and support centres, to housing services, disability and child safety facilities, and home maintenance services," he said. "On top of that I deal with HR, corporate governance, financial operations and media issues, as well as lobbying government and working with politicians."

Out of work, Peter also volunteers with different charities, moving on every few years.

"It's important that you don't stay in anything too long, that you come in, help where you can, and then move onto other challenges," he said. "Otherwise you can become too attached and it becomes your project rather than part of a bigger picture."

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